Tag Archives: bullying

More on bullying

I want to talk about bullying again. Specifically, the way some adults justify standing back and doing nothing. You’d probably heard it before. “They need to work out their own problems.”

Yeah, that one. A while back I heard it yet again as a way to justify not getting involved, and it struck a deep chord. It’s been bumping around in the back of my mind ever since, bugging me to write about it. So I’m going to try, let’s see how it goes.

Now, I know that non-parents are not supposed to talk about child rearing issues, so I am going to approach this from the only angle that makes sense to me – that of a former child who was bullied a lot. And yep, I was left on my own by adults who may very well have told themselves “they need to work it out for themselves.” At least, the ones who actually paid attention, rather than the ones who simply ignored it or the ones that joined in and laughed. That last group… geesh. I have nothing constructive to say about that last group.

Ok, but this is about that whole idea of letting kids work out their own problems. And you know what? I’m sure that it’s true in many cases. Kids have conflicts, and they learn their skills on how to navigate conflicts by, you know, actually navigating conflict. Thing is, I really hope kids navigate conflict with adult supervision whenever possible. With adults willing to give advice when asked, or step in when things get out of hand. Usually another way to learn things is from people who (hopefully) know that thing better than you do. Much of my learning crochet is from youtube videos – people who know things better than I do, so I go learn from them. Surely learning something as complex and nuanced as conflict resolution calls for the same thing.

Then there’s bullying. Here’s the thing – I am *really* uncomfortable lumping bullying in the same category as other sorts of conflict. I don’t think it’s the kind of thing where it’s best to just leave kids to it to resolve their own problems. The people targeted are already disadvantaged and vulnerable. That’s why they are targeted in the first place. Refusing to step in is just… I don’t even have the words. It’s uncool, ok? We’re not talking about a situation that can be resolved through basic interpersonal skills, or anything close.

So here’s another thing. I internalize things. I always have. I’m sure everyone does and most people try to learn not to as adults to keep negative messages from affecting us too much. Even now, I am really not good at that. I still internalize negative messages; I do it without even thinking about it. It takes me time and distance and work to disengage, pull them out, see them as maybe a message I should keep outside myself. As a child, I did not have ANY of those skills. Messages got internalized and just stayed there. Which means that I internalized and believed the various messages I got from bullying. Even more so given the fact that sometimes teachers joined in.

In any case, the fact that no one stood up for me, even when things were happening right in front of their faces, just confirmed for me that I must deserve it. I was resigned to my bullying. I rarely fought back at all (though many people have stories of fighting back and getting punished for it. Bullies, defended by the system). To me, the way I was being treated was just the way it was.

At some point in my late teens, not long before I aged out of my church’s youth group, someone made a cruel statement to me in the middle of a bible class. I responded as I usually did – lowering my head and feeling resigned to my reality, but for the first time ever, and authority figure spoke up. The teacher was astonished at what was said and how mean it was, and said so! And the person who had made the comment was equally astonished that anyone would call him on it. That was just the way they treated me, no one had ever told them it was wrong before.

I find that really sad when I look back on it. How, exactly, was I supposed to solve my own problems? Even if the idea is for me to stand up for myself, no one can do that unless they believe they are worth standing up for. And even then, without reinforcement, backing, SUPPORT from people in power, standing up for myself would have been unlikely to have done any good.

When calling people on their behavior is so rare that someone can make it to their late teens without realizing that what they are doing is not ok, something is seriously wrong. So yeah, I think adults need to step in. Peers need to step in. We need to quit telling ourselves “it’s not my problem.” We need to recognize that sometimes people are vulnerable and need help.

 

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Bullying

It’s generally understood that bullying is a problem, especially in schools. It’s talked about, games are made on the matter, people wonder what to do about it. However, I consistently get the impression that the bully people are trying to stop is the bully pictured in the image above. The stereotypical “school bully” – usually male, low self esteem, physically large, generally mean and disliked by everyone beyond other people similar to him.

As a person who has been bullied quite a bit in my life, well into adulthood, I want to say that my experiences of bullying have not fit into that archetype. My bullies were often popular, well liked, and charismatic. Often even the teachers liked them, certainly more than they liked me. I can remember one instance when a student was chatting and laughing with a teacher and saw me coming and said something cruel in my direction. The teacher simply laughingly said “that was mean!” and they went right back to chatting.

As for me, I was painfully shy, socially awkward, and I didn’t shower often enough. People found it easy to dismiss me and hard to value my concerns over their general like of my tormentors. So, predictably, I was dismissed and few people cared about what was going on. I had teachers look on and watch but do nothing while other students repeatedly spat gum into my hair. Or watch another student physically shove me out of a desk onto the floor, and then take me out into the hall to scold me. Teachers can be bullies too.

It’s much the same story in adulthood. I’ve been targeted, and frequently the person doing so was popular and charismatic, so everyone was far more interested in looking the other way than in acknowledging the bullying and maybe doing something about it. I have found that the unpopular person with low self esteem is usually the one getting bullied, not the one doing the bullying.

Part of the problem (beyond the ever-present social awkwardness and anxiety) is that I am, and always have been, quite vulnerable. I tend to be naive and I take teasing very personally – I have a lot of trouble with things like “friendly insults.” Sadly, this makes me a target. Again, not a target for your stereotypical bully like you might think, but a target for the charismatic popular person who happens to be really cruel to some subset of people. I can’t say it’s something I understand, but it’s real, it happens, and it’s a problem. While I’ve worked on my vulnerability quite a bit and it’s much better than it used to be, it’s still there, and it means it would be all too easy for bullying to happen yet again.

I do not actually have any real answers to the bullying problem. Mostly I want to see more acknowledgement that bullying isn’t about a type of person, but about behaviors. I want to see people understand that the awesome person they really like might also be acting a bully towards someone else. I want people to recognize that however much they like that person, just looking away because it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge is the wrong answer. Also, I want people realize that bullying is not something that “other people” do. It’s altogether too easy to engage in bullying, given that targets of bullying often have issues and are so very vulnerable. I want to see people be more willing to really look at their own behavior and see where they might be acting cruelly, and realize that however much they dislike the target, that kind of behavior is not ok. I don’t think the solution will come from watching the trouble makers and problem kids. It will come from looking at ourselves, and seeing how we might be contributing to the problem. And then, importantly, changing that.

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Filed under issue

bullying

I have had some explosions in my personal life.  I’ve been told I should try to learn from them, and I have indeed been trying.  One of the things I have learned is in regards to bullying.  I’m sure we can all agree that bullying is wrong and shouldn’t be done.  If we don’t agree on that, then I doubt we’d have very much to say to each other.  In any case, this is about being friends with a bully.  It happens.  Maybe an otherwise decent person has an attack of the jerkiness.  Maybe someone who is very good to you is very cruel to other people.  That said, if you are in that situation, you don’t get to say nothing.  By standing by and doing and saying nothing, you are giving tacit approval of what they are doing, and that is not ok.

Let’s take this not-so-hypothetical situation a bit further, shall we?  Let’s say Friend A is actively bullying Friend B.  Maybe you don’t want to take sides or something.  However, by doing nothing you are already taking a side, because you are giving that aforementioned tacit approval of the bullying Friend A is perpetuating.

Now, it is most definitely NOT Friend B’s job to be ok with this.  It is not Friend B’s job to make themself not be angry about your quiet approval of what’s going on.  In fact, at this point I would go so far as to say Friend B would be wrong to try to force themself to do those things.  I suppose it’s possible that Friend B is the kind of person to just not care anyway, and that’s fine.  But if Friend B IS the type to care, that is OK.  It is OK for them to be angry, it is ok for them to feel betrayed.  Bullying, on the other hand, is not ok.

I have a confession to make.  Not too far in the past, I stood by and did nothing while bullying was going on.  I was afraid of the bully and her social power, and I was afraid because she was cruel to me as well.  As such, beyond quietly talking to my friend about how I thought what was going on was wrong, I said and did nothing.  I am ashamed of my silence.  I fully intend to try harder if I am in such a situation in the future, and to not let fear of my own bullying stand in the way.  However, on top of my shame, I am far more ashamed of the people I had thought I liked, who either did nothing or joined in, presumably caught up in the moment of being cruel to a weaker person in the safety of a crowd.

And that is the lesson I have taken from this.  I was Friend B.  I did things to try to be ok with the silence, the only things I could possibly do to be ok, and those things I did were wrong.  I should not have done them.  Instead, I should have been angry; I should have recognized that this was not ok.

Also good reading: No Flat Girls: How Allies are Born.  This is a blog about feminism in geek culture, but this post helps exemplify what I am talking about, as well as helped me reach my own conclusions that I just wrote about.

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Filed under personal, ramble